Thursday, June 18, 2009

UPDATE: Newspaper Interests Blocking Cost- and Job-Saving Reforms

Mayor Luken used to say you never want to go to war with people who print news for a living, and county governments across Ohio are learning that lesson right now.

In an effort to cut costs and generate revenues without raising taxes (which would allow us to save jobs and maintain critical services such as public safety), counties across the state have asked the state legislature to provide us with several new tools that won't cost one penny in tax dollars. Indeed, they would save hundreds of thousands.

The Senate, hearing our request for help, included them in there budget bill. Among them:

1) Modernize the public notice requirements to alleviate the thousands of taxpayer dollars spent buying page after page in the local newspaper for certain required notices (such as listing tax delinquent properties). Under new rules proposed by County auditors across Ohio, counties could use the internet to do much of this public notice--eliminating most of the cost of the advertising which is paid by the taxpayers to the newspaper. Real savings. Hundreds of thousands of dollars that can go instead to critical public services.

2) Allow counties to at least explore the option of online advertising for their websites. Of course, as other governments have done in different parts of the country (see this site, which includes advertisements from, each county would have to come up with rules to deal with conflicts of interest, prohibiting companies who do business with the county from advertising, etc. But the change in law would at least allow such discussions to take place.

Together, these two changes would help counties across this state alleviate some of their budget woes. And they could literally save taxpayer dollars and jobs--keeping patrols on the street and services going.

But they do have one thing in common. They directly or indirectly threaten some of the revenues of our friends in the newspaper business, including revenues that come right from the taxpayers. Our hope was that despite this, newspapers--seeing the squeeze placed on governments right now by the tough economy--would allow government to be creative, and save taxpayer dollars and jobs through these changes. Apparently that was naively optimistic.

Several days ago, the Ohio News Association, the lobbying arm for newspapers across the state, sent the following alert to its members . . .


(Another alert on public notice provisions is coming on Tuesday)

Attached are the sections of the state budget bill that propose allowing any and all county government offices to sell commercial advertising on their websites, including links to and from commercial websites. . . .

ONA opposes this provision and is lobbying for its removal from HB 1 as the conference committee resolves House & Senate differences in the state budget. The negative aspects of this proposal should be brought to the attention of legislators and the public. Among those negative aspects are:

· Government would be creating commercial websites in direct competition with private enterprises

· Government would be soliciting advertising from the same companies & businesses advertising on traditional commercial media, thus taking revenue away from media outlets in Ohio that are already suffering from the recession with massive cutbacks, including layoffs of media employees

· This concept presents the potential for abuse and misconduct as county offices would be allowed to solicit advertising from the same companies that are trying to get government contracts, or the same business people who may be contributing to the political campaigns of elected county officials

· This concept allows government to set up its own internal revenue stream, away from the oversight of taxpayers

· This concept allows government to operate with non-tax revenue, setting up the potential of avoiding voters whenever additional county revenue is needed

· This concept is a conflict of interest that violates the separation of government (the public sector) from business (the private sector)

. . . .

Please editorialize immediately against the proposal and call for its removal from House Bill 1.
Please write a letter calling for abandonment of this proposal.

Lo and behold, in today's Enquirer, look what ran. An editorial that basically repeats, point by point, these "scare tactic" and loaded talking points. (It's interesting that the editorial is so skeptical that government would be unable to create conflict of interest rules that separate advertising from their neutral performance of public service, yet the very business model of newspapers rests on an assumption that they are able to do exactly that when it comes to their advertising interests not interfering with their neutral coverage of news).

Interestingly, there was also no objection when then-Commissioner DeWine proposed several years back, and we explored, increasing revenue by placing advertising billboards on County property to potentially generate revenue. No real difference there except the medium of the advertisement, and who it would compete with.

UPDATE: The Enquirer today ENDORSED a public notice reform proposal that has just been put forth--but it is a watered down version, and would replace, the Auditors' proposal described above that would save the most money.

Let's face it. This is a very difficult time for all. We know newspapers are struggling, and as a firm believer in the importance of a strong press, I don't like to see them struggle at this time. I feel for reporters and staff who are going through furloughs, just as our public employees are.

At the same time, government leaders are working hard to find solutions to minimize cuts in services and jobs while avoiding asking the public to pay any more to government than they already do.

Let's call time-out on narrow special interest lobbying, and do what's best for the taxpayers and the public. Rather than killing cost-saving and job-saving reforms at a challenging time, at least let counties explore new tools and options such as these.

Let the Games Begin: Cincinnati To Host 2012 World Choir Games

The largest event Cincinnati and our region have ever hosted.
20,000 singers from around the world. Hundreds of thousands of visitors to watch them compete.
A short-term economic boom of tens of millions of dollars from spending and activity alone. But even more importantly, a long-term chance to build an international brand as a cultural capital--which has an incalculable economic benefit for years to come.

That's what our successful bid to host the 2012 World Choir Games--the first ever held in the United States--means. 50 cities across the country sought this honor, by the way. We won. (And the Enquirer provides a good explanation of why).
Thanks to all who helped make this happen--the Governor, the Mayor, County leaders. And our Convention and Visitors' Bureau leaders most of all. (And Nick Lachey and the Cincinnati Choir for putting us on the map as the City most excited about singing in the country!)
(On a side note, in the last several years, and with some criticism from others, we have made the strategic decision to invest in better infrastructure, better facilities, and far more proactive marketing of these assets across the country and the world. This is why!)
Next stop? World Cup, 2018.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Update: Resolution Opposing Mining Plan for Anderson Township

Today I introduced a Resolution at the Hamilton County Commission that, if passed, would voice the County's strong opposition to the mining proposal for the Martin Marietta site in Anderson Township.

I do this after 1) hearing from so many concerned citizens on the numerous ways this propose use would damage the community, 2) seeing the opposition of so many bodies of government in the surrounding communities, and 3) after listening to considerable testimony at several hearings. In my judgment, the potentially enormous costs to the community of this proposed use far outweigh any benefits that the community would ever see from the mining operation (to say the least!).

The resolution reflects the primary reasons citizens across the community are standing against this proposal.

I intend to hold a vote in two weeks on this issue, and then we will forward it on to the Board of Zoning Appeals as they begin to reach the final stages of their deliberations.

Thanks to the many citizens who have reached out and communicated to me on this important community issue.

County Earns National Recognition -- 6 Times!

Today, we announced the good news that six county programs have been awarded 2009 National Achievement Awards from the National Association of Counties (NACo). These awards honor innovative programs that enhance county government by modernizing and streamlining processes while increasing services to residents. This year, NACo honored only 13 programs from Ohio, and 6 of those programs came from Hamilton County .

The programs honored at today’s ceremony include initiatives to: encourage recycling in the workplace; encourage employees to innovate and save taxpayer dollars; promote foster parenting (Everyday Heroes campaign); intervene with fathers in danger of falling short of support responsibilites; and holding accountable those that have failed in their child support responsibilites.

Especially at a time when our County workforce is being asked to do more with less, these awards are a testament to a talented, creative and innovative work force.

The award winning programs will be listed as “Model Programs” in the NACo national database and will be recognized at the association’s annual conference in Nashville on July 26.

Congratulations to all recipients!

Monday, June 15, 2009

County Launches Energy Efficiency Effort

At our staff meeting today, we received an update from our Administration on an energy efficiency strategy that should prove transformational in the long run.

Using federal stimulus dollars, we will invest millions of dollars in energy efficiency upgrades that will, over the long run, save taxpayer dollars, businesses and households millions of dollars, while creating new “green” job opportunities for residents. We will ultimately invest $4.8 Million in Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants (EECBG).

Our approach will allow governments, businesses and individual homeowners across the County to save money over time by making strategic, sustainable investments in energy upgrades. The program will also help generate job-creating economic activity across the County.

The county plans to make key investments in:
- public building energy improvements, both County facilities and in communities across the County (facilities are the largest user of energy in government);
- public grants and loans to implement and finance energy improvements for eligible small - businesses and residents;
- specific, high-profile energy improvements on the Banks Project; and
- support the purchase of hybrid or alternative fueled vehicles within Hamilton County.

One of the most important directional changes we've made in the County in the last several years is our commitment to improving our environment while saving dollars on energy, and this plan will play a key role in achieving these goals.

We will submit our plan to the federal goverment on June 25, and hope to begin making these investments in a few months.
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